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What Is AMD FreeSync? FreeSync and FreeSync 2 HDR Explained

FreeSync On and Off (Image credit: AMD)

AMD FreeSync is a type of adaptive sync technology for displays, namely PC monitors, gaming laptop screens and certain TVs. The feature helps displays avoid screen tearing, as well as stuttering and juddering by synchronizing the panel’s refresh rate with the framerate from the GPU. FreeSync is the AMD alternative to Nvidia G-Sync. FreeSync 2 HDR is the newest version of the technology and adds enhanced support for HDR content.

Screen tearing is an unwelcome effect on the display image (see photo above), which makes on-screen objects look disjointed. It’s the result of the game’s framerate (the rate at which frames of an image are displayed) not matching the monitor’s refresh rate (the frequency at which a display’s image is refreshed).

FreeSync gives your display a variable, aka dynamic, refresh rate (VRR / DRR). The feature makes the display’s refresh rate match your AMD Radeon graphics card’s framerate. FreeSync supports refresh rates up to 240Hz, depending on the monitor. This way, you can enjoy the maximum framerate your graphics card is capable of achieving. If you have a keen enough eye, you may also notice better input latency, or the delay between when you move your mouse and when the cursor actually moves.

However, if you seek max framerates that are greater than your monitor’s refresh rate, you may still see some tearing—even with FreeSync on.

Both versions of FreeSync are based on VESA’s Adaptive Sync protocol, so it works over both DisplayPort and HDMI. For a display to be FreeSync-certified, it has to pass AMD’s own testing process, which looks at its Adaptive Sync support range, luminance / brightness, color range and more.

FreeSync vs. FreeSync 2 HDR

(Image credit: AMD)

FreeSync 2 is the second generation of FreeSync and can be found in newer gaming monitors. Both FreeSync and FreeSync 2 are meant to reduce tearing and stuttering, but FreeSync 2 will work better with HDR than FreeSync, thanks to optimizations like better tone mapping. You can only find FreeSync 2 on HDR monitors. But some HDR monitors have regular FreeSync only (FreeSync also supports HDR)

FreeSync 2 came out in 2017, while FreeSync launched in 2015. So there are more FreeSync than FreeSync 2 monitors currently available. But with HDR gaining steam, we can expect to continue seeing more FreeSync 2 monitors on the market. We’ve already reviewed a few, including the AOC Agon AG322QC4 and LG 34GK950F.

FreeSyncFreeSync 2 HDR
HDROptionalRequired
Ability to toggle between SDR and HDRNoYes
Low Framerate Compensation (LFC)OptionalRequired
DisplayPort and HDMI supportYesYes

Another difference between FreeSync and FreeSync 2 is that with FreeSync 2, if your framerate falls below the supported range of your monitor, low framerate compensation (LFC) is automatically enabled to fight tearing and stuttering.

Check out AMD’s video below for an idea of what using FreeSync 2 looks like:

FreeSync vs. G-Sync

FreeSync is AMD’s take on adaptive sync, while G-Sync is Nvidia’s. Just like you need an AMD graphics card to use FreeSync, you need an Nvidia graphics card to use G-Sync.

There are some standout differences. When it comes to 4K monitors, FreeSync maxes out at 120Hz, while G-Sync can go to 144Hz. In addition, there are no G-Sync TVs on the market currently, but there are some FreeSync TVs

FreeSync is built on an open standard. Contrastingly, to use G-Sync, monitor vendors have to pay for Nvidia's proprietary chip, which replaces  the scaler they'd typically buy. As a result, FreeSync monitors are usually cheaper than G-Sync ones. When exploring monitors at the CES tech trade show in January, we noticed a lot of FreeSync monitors coming out but fewer G-Sync ones. Budget concerns for both vendors and customers is likely the cause. However, this could all change with the introduction of G-Sync Compatible monitors. 

G-Sync Compatible Monitors

G-Sync Compatible monitors are specific FreeSync monitors that Nvidia has tested and approved to run G-Sync. These are monitors that previously only had FreeSync for adaptive sync but have now been Nvidia-certified to run G-Sync with an Nvidia graphics card and the proper driver, albeit with some limitations. We've also found this to work with some FreeSync monitors that aren't on Nvidia's official list. To learn more, check out tutorial on how to run G-Sync on a FreeSync monitor.

For a detailed exploration of the performance differences between FreeSync and G-Sync, see our AMD FreeSync vs. Nvidia G-Sync article.

What you need to run FreeSync

You can find a list of FreeSync-certified monitors here.

To use FreeSync with your PC monitor, you’ll need a FreeSync-certified monitor and a PC running a compatible AMD Radeon graphics card with a DisplayPort connection, plus the compatible Radeon Software graphics driver.

Graphics cards that officially support FreeSync (it can be AMD or third-party branded) include the following (for help picking a graphics card, see our graphics card buying guide):

The best gaming monitors typically come with either FreeSync, FreeSync 2 or G-Sync. Some general use and professional monitors also offer FreeSync. If you buy a monitor with 4K resolution (aka UHD) and FreeSync, note that the FreeSync will be limited to a 60Hz max refresh rate.

To use a monitor’s FreeSync, you have to turn it on in AMD Radeon Settings.

(Image credit: AMD)

FreeSync gaming laptops

Some gaming laptops running AMD graphics have FreeSync built into the display. They’ll say so on their spec sheet.

To use a gaming laptop’s built-in FreeSync, you’ll need to download the latest AMD FreeSync driver.

FreeSync TVs

A small number of Samsung TVs offer FreeSync. To use it, you have to have up-to-date TV firmware and connect the TV to a supporting device, either a gaming PC (with an AMD Radeon graphics card), Xbox One X or Xbox One S (no PlayStations).

This article is part of the Tom's Hardware Glossary.

Further reading:

  • xperience89
    Hi! Thanks for article. I'm working on my new gaming setup and I currently have a Samsung C32HG70 monitor.
    I'm considering the 2070s or the rx 5700xt. I know that the 2070s is more powerful than the 5700xt, but Freesync2 will not works with the 2070s.

    I play games like Destiny 2, The Division 2, Battlefield, COD, and wondering if I should go with the 5700xt for the HDR Freesync2 and lower FPS or with the 2070s HDR Freesync (without Freesync2) but higher FPS?

    Thanks
    Reply